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Dog Day Afternoon

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/19/2006

Are you upset that there have already been plenty of college basketball upsets? Don’t be. Think about how upset the players and coaches of Iowa are today, not to mention the whole Hawkeye state. The Big Ten Tournament champions led by 17 with 8½ minutes left against tiny Northwestern State. In the blink of an eye, the 14th-seeded Demons came back and stunned Iowa, 64-63. Upset is the appropriate word. Think how upset all the sports bettors with tickets on Iowa are!

That’s because it’s a dog’s life during March tourney play. This is nothing new. Each season we see surprising upsets all the time. Everyone remembers the Final Four and the championship game participants, which almost always features big name programs. But because the March tourney moves so fast, it’s very easy to forget all the upsets along the way.

Iowa’s loss to Northwestern State was one of many examples….this March! Bucknell put its game face on and beat Arkansas. On the opening day of the tourney, Wisconsin Milwaukee upset Oklahoma, Tennessee survived over Winthrop by a basket, and Pacific took Boston College to two overtimes before the Eagles survived. A couple of No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds, as Texas A&M beat Syracuse and Montana upset Nevada.

It’s all part of what makes the Madness great. One reason is that smaller schools can be so fired up to get to the Big Dance, that they give everything they have. They know a national TV audience is watching, so they want to play their best, and if they lose, the season is over to. So why shouldn’t a team give it their all? After all, they’ve been together for many months and have enjoyed many great wins, and victories in the tournament. A team good enough to get this far clearly has drive, pride and talent.

Another factor is that smaller schools don’t get to the party very often, and nowhere near as often as schools like Kansas, Duke and UConn. NCAA tournament berths are singularly special to a school, like bowl games for college football programs. Players and coaches know that they are representing their school and since small schools get here so rarely, they know that for years they will represent a special place in the school’s history. Notice that Northwestern State is in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time, getting here in 2001.

Another factor to keep in mind is that oddsmakers have to give more respect to larger, well known schools. Their purpose is to attract money on each side of a game, they don’t care who is going to win, just that they get equal action. So if UCLA is playing Belmont, they have to shade a point or two toward UCLA knowing that the majority of bettors are going to be far familiar with the Bruins than a school like Belmont. There are plenty of live dogs that offer good wagering value this time of year.

Finally, the main reason there are continually upsets in the tourney is that these small teams are very good. They have talent, or play strong defense, or have an excellent coaching staff. Some have all three. Some even have eventual NBA talent. You may see players like Pacific’s Christian Maraker playing very well in the NBA in a few years. He’ll certainly be a better NBA player than Pacific’s Michael Olowakandi! So don’t be shocked, surprised or upset when you see upsets like Northwestern State’s dramatic 64-63 win Friday over Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. And it won’t be the last big upset, either!

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